Rochester Area Residents Learn about LGBTQ Rights at GRAIN Panel Discussion

Rochester Area Residents Learn about LGBTQ Rights at GRAIN Panel Discussion

(Crystal A. Proxmire, May 12, 2017)

Rochester Hills, MI – Nearly 100 people from the Greater Rochester Area gathered Thursday night to learn about the lack of civil rights protection for LGBTQ people and to hear what options might be available for making their communities safer places for those who face discrimination and hate.

GRAIN, the Great Rochester Area Inclusion Network, held a townhall on the topic featuring Field Director of Equality Michigan Erin Knott, Lake Orion human rights activist Lisa Goyette, and Ferndale City Coucilperson Dan Martin.  Each shared their own experiences in standing up for equality in their communities in hopes of helping GRAIN prepare for their own advocacy efforts.

ERIN KNOTT, EQUALITY MICHIGAN

Knott, who lives in the Kalamzoo area, has been active in political organizing since graduating from Western Michigan. She gave advice on how to organize a campaign for a Human Rights Ordinance (HRO), which would add sexual orientation and sexual identity to the list of groups that could not be discriminated against in the city.  Statewide people are protected against discrimination based on race, religion, disability and a host of other conditions. Yet sexual orientation and gender identity are not among those.

Knott’s tips were to:

-Build a coalition now

-Make the coalition diverse

-Find champions on the inside, ie people on city or township boards to help get the ordinance through

-Do homework before launching, find out what it takes to change an ordinance, what is the referendum process etc.

-Find stories and examples of discrimination before going to the public so those stores can be part of the education component

LISA GOYETTE, LAKE ORION

Goyette called herself an “accidental activist.”  She shared the story of adopting a little girl from China with her husband, and watching as their child grew into boy.

“What we experienced as a family profoundly changed us,” Goyette said.  “We had a child that was happy go lucky. As they went down this path of figuring out who they wanted to be, they were angry, they were depressed… We thought we may not have a child anymore they were in so much pain.”

A gender therapist and hormone specialist told them “You need to accept them as they are. You need to accept that you have a boy… You can parent to a boy, or you can bury a daughter.”

After working through their son being transgender as a family, the rest of the world got involved.  “The second wave was when the reality of the world hit us smack in the face.  People are not kind to transgender people. And that is not fair.  My child did not do anything wrong.  My husband and I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Goyette led the drive for HROs in Orion Township and Lake Orion. In Lake Orion the council adopted an ordinance.  Orion Township passed a resolution in support of nondiscrimination, but fell short of codifying it with a change to the ordinances.

Her advice to GRAIN was to stick with it.  “I’ve been in front of many hostile groups and that’s hard. But it gets easier as it goes along,” she said.

DAN MARTIN, FERNDALE CITY COUNCIL

Martin talked about the long road to Ferndale voters approving an HRO. “Some people are surprised to hear, we voted three times over 9 years before it passed,” he said.

He said that culture change takes a long time and a lot of patience, and for people to realize that not everyone understands HROs the same way an activist might.

“A lot of communities don’t even have the vocabulary to have the conversation,” he said.  “You have to be willing to talk to people and answer questions….Be willing to talk to folks in a civil way.”

Getting involved in all aspects of community life was also critical to Ferndale’s HRO success.  He explained that a group called FANS of Ferndale (Friends and Neighbors) “started out as a social group but then they mobilized.”  Members joined boards and commissions and got involved in other community groups and started forming connections.  These efforts evolved to include having the Ferndale Community Foundation being the parent organization to the Ferndale Pride Festival, and Citizens for Fair Ferndale which hosts candidate forums, gives out Good Neighbor Awards, and encourages officials and residents to sign a civility pledge calling for respectful discourse.

“Culture change takes a long, long time and that’s what you need,” Martin said.  “And you have to be willing to fail a couple of times. That is part of the process.”

Knott said that 42 municipalities have HROs.  These include Lansing, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Royal Oak,  Kalamazoo, Lathrup Village, Fenton, Birmingham and Mt. Pleasant.  In Jackson, she said, it took 17 years for an HRO to pass.

She also said that Equality Michigan is working with legislators to encourage them to amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Amendment, which would protect people state-wide.  “It’s this slow, steady drumbeat towards 2018, putting pressure on legislators in lame duck,” Knott said.

GRAIN has been organizing residents around issues of equality including racial diversity, immigration, and LGBTQ rights. Last month they held a large community potluck.  With five committees and regular meetings, the group is quickly growing with members in Rochester, Rochester Hills, Oakland Township, Auburn Hills, Troy and beyond.  More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/grain.michigan.5.

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